By Rich Odu
Motor Park touting, from some indications, is as old as the transportation business in Nigeria. Over time, the touting has gone through various stages of evolution. And today, it appears to loom larger than life and has, indeed, assumed kingship, rather than remain an adjunct, in the transportation business in many Nigerian cities.
Very worrisome in this evolution of touting is the menace which the touts have now constituted to commercial vehicle operators and the commuters who are their major customers.
In years past, the touts were fun to behold when they gesticulated and used their sonorous voices in announcing the destination of respective vehicles at the bus stops and stations. Their concern was to win passengers for the commercial vehicles they worked for and get their reward in cash. Then, the ocho passenger, as he was called in Igbo language, or Agbero in Yoruba, ended his business activities at the level of being an agent to the vehicle owner and going home satisfied with the fee he was paid thereafter.
Today, every thing has changed. What Nigerians observe to be Motor Park touting is a mafia-like operation where the dons stay at the background and wait for the proceeds forcefully obtained from the commercial drivers by their cudgel wielding foot soldiers at strategic points in the towns.
In Lagos, it is a reign of terror in some parts of the state where these touts chase bus drivers about, and forcefully collect money they are not entitled to. Bus drivers who refuse to cooperate with them are made to suffer damage in form of a broken headlamp or rear light, destroyed side mirrors or the like.
In Owerri, the capital city of Imo State, the touts are seen in places such as Douglas Road, Ama J.K., Rotibi Street, Mbaise Road, Warehouse, Akwakuma Junction, among others. On the Orlu-Owerri route, drivers are forced to part with N500 each at two points twice daily if they are not loaded at the park and had chosen to pick their passengers along the road. If they are loaded at the parks, they are fleeced of huge amounts of money by the touts who do nothing but claim ownership of the loading bays.
As if that is not enough, the touts station themselves at strategic points where commuters usually gather to wait for commercial vehicles on the routes. The foot soldiers in these units who are said to be usually given revenue targets, account to their bosses later in the day.
The boldness which they exhibit in their harassment of the drivers often suggests that they might have been covertly in connivance with some government officials who give them cover. Some drivers have, at times, challenged these lords of the roads and such challenges have often ended up in brawls where the vehicles get damaged. Most of the commercial buses plying the routes have done so without side mirrors and other accessories they had previously lost in attacks by the tout, while their bodies are usually battered as they engage in the cat and rat race with the agberos.
Sometime ago, the aggrieved drivers who ply Orlu-Owerri road had a meeting to discuss the problem. But the touts invaded the meeting venue and disrupted the meeting to the point of violence. How they got away with such effrontery.
The activities of these merchants of terror have obviously affected transport fares because the drivers readily transfer whatever is extorted from them to the passengers. Besides, there is no evidence that these touts add any value to the industry. Rather, they constitute nuisance on the road. At times, they arrogate to themselves, the authority to apprehend the drivers who they accuse of discharging or picking passengers at unauthorized places. Yet, the capital city of Owerri does not seem to have officially designated bus stops which is what the present administration must address to forestall the mess.
Worse still, the army of these agberos keep swelling by the day, painfully populated by young men of school age who should have been in school, as well as able-bodied men who should be gainfully employed had they been trained in one trade or the other.
This calls for the intervention of the government by way of providing for them alternative and more productive ventures just to keep them off the streets. Thereafter, it would be necessary to outlaw touting in the transportation sector and indeed in other aspects of our public life.